The word “Tifosi” is best-known in Formula 1 in reference to Ferrari’s loyal tribe of fans that follow the team all over the world, with its largest congregation appearing at Monza each year for the Italian Grand Prix.

While the term is used throughout the Italian sports scene, including in football and cycling, its origins are slightly more sinister. “Tifosi” literally means “those infected by typhus”, detailing how their enthusiasm and spirit spreads like an infection.

Ferrari’s Tifosi lap it up. They wave flags, set off flares, sing songs. You didn’t need to look at the track to know when either Charles Leclerc or Sebastian Vettel were leaving the pits or passing by, such was the level of noise coming from the grandstand.

And it was the 21-year-old Leclerc, in only his second F1 season, who received the biggest cheers throughout the weekend, with his victory on Sunday only confirming himself as the Tifosi’s new hero.

This season had been billed for some time as being decisive for Ferrari’s future. Four-time world champion Vettel arrived at Ferrari in 2015 hoping to turn its fortunes around in a similar fashion to his hero, Michael Schumacher, and end its title drought. Those chances were presented in both 2017 and 2018, only to pass by and lead to question marks over Vettel’s role in being the man to bring success back to Maranello.

Leclerc’s arrival certainly lit more of a fire under Vettel, yet through the early part of the year, the German driver still looked like the number one. Bahrain aside, he was quicker than Leclerc through the first half of the season, most dominantly in Canada. While the mistakes were still there – Bahrain, Canada, Silverstone – Vettel still looked like the better bet.

But Leclerc has learned quickly. A change in approach for qualifying triggered a superb run of form that has seen him outqualify Vettel at each of the last seven races. His race approach has also improved, seen most clearly with his victory at Spa when he avoided the same tyre wear trap that Vettel fell straight into.

Monza was always going to be crucial in deciding who would lead Ferrari’s future. The SF90’s straight-line speed advantage made the team the overwhelming favourite heading into the weekend, giving both Leclerc and Vettel the chance to be the man to end the home win drought, dating back to Fernando Alonso’s success at Monza in 2010.

I put it to Vettel on Thursday how much it would mean to him to be the man to end Ferrari’s nine-win year drought. When I mentioned that number, he pulled a thinking face for a second, as though the gap was too big.

But it wasn’t. That’s how long the Tifosi had been expectantly waiting.

“This is the biggest race for us, no doubt,” he then replied. “It’s a big weekend. Obviously we saw the passion that there is yesterday [at the Milan event] and I’m sure we will see it throughout the weekend. So hopefully I’m sure it will give us a boost - how much, we will see.

“I mentioned before, it’s difficult to predict but certainly I think now is the time to over-deliver. It’s a big weekend so hopefully we can make it count this time. I think we have a good chance, so we will see.”

For the second year in a row, Vettel let the chance slip through his fingers. Qualifying fourth after the Q3 farce didn’t help matters, with Vettel unhappy that Ferrari’s original plan wasn’t stuck to, the blame seeming to lie with Leclerc. But he still had a chance to get into the mix with Leclerc and the two Mercedes drivers at the front – only for his spin at Ascari just six laps into the race to scupper any hopes of doing so.

The unsafe rejoining of the track aside, it was another case of Vettel losing his cool when it mattered. Of all weekends to have done it, this one, at Monza, with Leclerc charging to victory after a near-perfect display complete with some steely defensive moves – it made the gulf between the two of them look greater than ever.

To make matters worse for Vettel, Leclerc has also leap-frogged him in the drivers’ championship after his back-to-back wins. He runs 13 points clear (182 to 169), and is just three shy of Max Verstappen in third place.

But the bigger loss for Vettel is his status as Ferrari’s leader – not among the team itself, but among the Tifosi. Once the great saviour coming to restore the Prancing Horse to its former glories and clear up the mess left in the wake of the Alonso era, he is now the driver who has seen chance after chance pass by.

Leclerc, meanwhile, took that same chance at the first time of asking at Monza.

“I’ve grown a lot since the beginning of the season,” Leclerc said after the race. “I understood the critics of last year, me being too young as it is my second year in F1.

“Being in Ferrari already was early for sure, but I can only thank Ferrari for believing in me. They had a lot of data which they analysed. It was not an easy decision.

“In the end, I’m happy to have these kinds of results which show that I was maybe more ready than some people thought.”

As hopeful as the Tifosi may have been for Leclerc heading into the new season, for him to have performed so well just 14 races into his Ferrari career would have outstripped even their wildest dreams.

He has already become their new hero.



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